I've always been partial to urban fantasy. The genre places fantasy tropes like magic and orcs in modern days. Think the Dresden Files book series, or the recent Bright on Netflix. Unlike Bright, try to think of something good. Pendula Swing turns this concept slightly on its head by turning the clock back just a little. An episodic adventure game that takes place in a version of the roaring twenties and includes all sorts of fantasy tropes. There's clearly a lot of love put into this setting. With the first two episodes out, is enough done to keep me swinging, or is the great depression on the way?
You play as Brialynne Donu Tenúm, a dwarven hero who was part of a famous adventuring party that killed a powerful monster. After this, she married the love of her life and the two settled down on a remote island for retirement. Skip ahead 400 years. One morning Brialynne wakes up and discovers that her magic ax, the one she used to kill the monster, has been stolen. With only a few clues, she travels off her island and to the nearby city in an effort to discover who stole her ax.
As interesting this story may be, it barely goes anywhere. The first episode can basically be summed up with "Brialynne reaches the city", and the second with "Brialynne talks to the police chief". If you go straight through the main quests it'll take somewhere between 30 to 40 minutes to finish both episodes of Pendula Swing. In this time the story only seems to inch forward, and if the remaining five episodes have as little progress as these two then I wonder how much story there actually is to tell. Things only marginally improve if you add the side quests. That brought the runtime up to about an hour and a half total. These side quests also don't give any real rewards or new items. Rather, they're just there for further world-building.
However, if you're interested in world-building, then Pendula Swing is one hell of an interesting world to spend time in. Goblins and orcs protest for the right to vote on the streets. Homeless adventurers layabout, their services no longer required by the world. The human mayor continues to push for a more humanity first educational system. Every character in the world of Pendula seems to have an interesting story to tell, and I had fun learning about the various social and political issues going on in the world. I'd love to see all of this more fleshed out going forward.
For the most part, you're not doing much other than talking to people or giving them items you find in the environment. By holding down the tab key the game will highlight everything that Brialynne can inspect or interact with, so you never have to go pixel hunting hoping you're close to what you need. It's a smart little system that keeps me from getting too lost. It's especially useful if you're searching for all the items you can interact with so you can get all those little tidbits of world building.
There are a few puzzles in Pendula Swing, most of which just require going between points A and B to talk to a few people. I do appreciate how there are multiple ways to solve each puzzle though. For example, early on you need to get past a checkpoint. If you brought your identification papers from home then you can skip the line and head right to the VIP check-in. Forgot them? Then you need to help an arguing orc and human so they can devote time to you.
Unfortunately, Pendula Swing was a glitchy game. Many conversations had Brialynne and the person she was talking to facing in totally different directions. The centerpiece of the business district is a fountain, yet without trying I was able to find angles that let me see under it and into the skybox. Late in the game, a few dialogue branches ended without the character saying their final lines, and me having to dig through the logbook to find it. When I first started playing, the menu was inaccessible, though a patch has since fixed this. I can only hope that a patch cleans everything else up by the time the third episode rolls around.
I really wanted to like Pendula Swing's first few episodes. In a way I do, mostly thanks to an absolutely fantastic setting that I would love to explore more of. This is the kind of place that you could put in a good book and totally lose yourself in. However, it's in a video game, and the rest of it just doesn't hold up. Basic gameplay, glitches, and a plot that barely moves all drag it down pretty hard. I'm still going to keep an eye on Pendula Swing, but I'm not quite sure I'll dance with it.
Pendula Swing - Episode 1: Tired and Retired and Episode 2: The Old Hero's New Journey was reviewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer.
A fantastic setting saves Pendula Swing's first two episodes from being a waste of time, but boring gameplay, glitches, short running time, and a plot that barely moves drags it all down.
- Fantastic Setting
- Multiple Ways to Advance
- Plot Barely Moves
- Little to Do
- Extremely Short